This young woman (Patricia Healey) works in London in an office job so dull and boring that she fantasises about killing herself at her desk, leaving her hanged body swaying from the ceiling. Obviously it's time for a change, so once she is finished for the day, she heads for the railway station to take a train to the North of England where she originally hailed from. On getting her ticket, a well-dressed businessman in a bowler hat (Stephen Moore) tells her about his perfect woman, which may describe her and the way he ends up down on his knees on the platform suggests the city was reluctant to let her go...
The White Bus had a convoluted production history, with some telling you that it was originally part of a portmanteau film which included Morgan - A Suitable Case for Treatment until that became a film in its own right, and others saying it was a proposed rendering of three Shelagh Delaney stories, based on her book, called Red, White and Zero. The other two never quite succeeded, even though they had fairly big British New Wave directors attached, but whatever the truth of the matter, this item did get completed under the guidance of Lindsay Anderson, who had made waves with This Sporting Life earlier in the decade.
As the work Anderson made before If...., this held all sorts of interest, as it was very much created in the same style, even down to the mixture of black and white and colour film stock, and the lightly surreal atmosphere which at times is serious, at others playful. If anything, The White Bus was even more inscrutable as to what it was conveying other than a longing for your home town, yet when the unnamed girl reaches the equally unnamed Northern city, it's not all rose tinted glows and rhapsodising about the pleasures of the locations. Some of it sounded a note of nostalgia, but other things she sees there are more disturbing should you take the time to ponder over what you've just seen.
Why was that woman being abducted, for instance, one of the first things the young woman witnesses on stepping off the train and out into the streets? Like a lot of this, it doesn't appear to have much to do with anything other than sustaining that off kilter mood, and it is possible to simply go with the flow of the film for its three quarters of a hour or so, letting every event no matter how mundane or bizarre wash over you in much the same way. The vehicle of the title enters into it when apparently on the spur of the moment she boards a tour bus which is escorting a wide variety of people, including the mayor (Arthur Lowe) who acts as if he would prefer to be taking the guide role himself.
The presence of Lowe would indicate this was a comedy, yet while there were amusing moments, lines to make you chuckle, this wasn't consistent enough in its humour to have that genre apply. In fact, a lot of this doubled as travelogue for the city, which although nobody mentions it was Manchester where Delaney was from, as we are shown around such diverse locations as a steelworks, a school (where the woman joins in with the schoolgirls singing a hymn), and an art gallery, with various sights which create a snapshot of the place without giving in to depicting it as if it were anything other than a weird fairy tale land that happened to be grittier than that may have led you to expect. Our protagonist hardly speaks a word, so there's no way of getting into her frame of mind, leaving a work with an intriguing surface which hides hidden depths probably only its author would be able to elucidate on with any great clarity. Music by Misha Donat, and watch out for Anthony Hopkins' film debut.